Sunday, May 29, 2011

Lessons in History

This is my first post at Romancing the Past and I want to thank my fellow Carina Press historical authors for letting me hang out here. I'm thrilled to be a part of such a great group of authors!

I'm both excited and a little scared my first historical romance novella Lessons In Indiscretion will be published June 20th. I've been published for the last five years but it's all been mostly contemporary romances. Writing a historical has always been a dream of mine but I was too intimidated. Afraid I would get details wrong, facts wrong...and that I would be called out on it. Too much of a risk, I told myself.

Especially when you look at my first historical attempts. So. Awful. You see, historical romances were my first love. Lavyrle Spencer, Julie Garwood, Jude Deveraux and Judith McNaught...I gobbled their books up like candy. I told myself, "You could do this." And so I set out to write a grand, epic historical romance novel.

My attempts were awful. All fits and starts and out of order scenes and lots of telling and lots and lots of adverbs (I love adverbs - they get a bad rap but my past use of them was ridiculous).

Eventually I allowed life to get in the way and the next thing you know, fifteen years flew by. When I started writing seriously toward publication back in late 2005 I considered attempting a historical but told myself, "Nooooo".

I'm glad I finally got the courage to try. And I thank Lavyrle, Julie, Jude and Judith for giving me such inspiration way back in the day. I wouldn't be here without them. Seriously.

(I'm having an awesome contest over on my blog where I'm giving away a KINDLE! Check out all the details on my contest page!)

Also, check out my book trailer for Lessons In Indiscretion!

Do you have any favorite old historical romances? Let's reminisce!

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Immersed in the Past

Eliza Knight -- Courtesy of
Katherine Brandon.
Picture taken by a 19th Century bridge
in Eliza's village.
This is my very first post on Romancing the Past! I am extremely excited to be part of this blog and the Carina Press author team! My Regency-set erotic novella, Lady Seductress's Ball, will release on December 19th this year. I don't have my cover yet--which I am soooo excited to see, I think that is one of my favorite parts of a book being published--and you all will be one of the first to see it!

If time-travel were possible, I'd be allllll over it... As it is however, I am stuck here in 2011 until it becomes so on. But if you ask my husband, who regularly points out I am using historical words in modern speech, I do live in the past. I think my latest blunder was telling him about a merchant who'd just opened up shop in town... lol

Authors of historical fiction, have to know their setting, their characters mannerisms, the language, the style, EVERYTHING, just as authors of contemporary, and fantasy world-builders have to know theirs. The thing is, this is a world that no longer exists except in paintings, music, the pages of a books, and in reenactments (live or video-recorded such as documentaries, tv series and movies). We cannot make up the world in our head, because we aren't creating a  fantasy or sci-fi book, we have to actually study it and bring it back to life within our own stories.

Most of us haunt libraries, antique stores, and bookstores to add to our knowledge and collections. I've also started to download books that were written in the late 19th and early 20th century that have been scanned onto a computer and made into .pdf. Actually had a really cool find last night! I read a new research book on a character I'm working on and there was a portrait that was said to be her in the past, but has now been discovered to be someone else. I started last night reading a book I downloaded that was written in 1911--it had the portrait and labeled it as my character!  How amazing? I had just read about it being a mistake and to see it...okay, I'm gushing I know, I'm a nerd like that!

But beyond books, as historical authors--and esentially amateur researchers and historians--we have to find other ways to get inside our world. History Channel is one of my best friends :) I watch a lot of documentaries. Visiting museums and traveling to places your setting takes place in can be priceless.  Take a lot of notes, pictures and videos, pick the brains of the tour guide and buy a few artifacts, portraits, maps, books you can find there.

I love to go to festivals, fairs and historical villages. I feel at home there. I know a lot of authors who are also reenactors. I would love to do that, and when all my kids are older (youngest is a wee babe), I do believe I will.

In addition to visiting historical places, reading or watching about them, I also try to bring history into my life. I have historical artifacts in my home--paintings, knick-knacks, like the antique cannon balls that sit in a large medieval bowl on my piano, I love to mix it up! My children drink out of pewter goblets and don't bat an eyelash. I wear medieval and Regency fashioned jewelry.  I cook historical dishes. I listen to period music. I read historical novels. You could say I've immersed myself in the past, and that I live that way--minus the hygienic practices. I do love modern plumbing, deodarant and razors!

I also think part of history is nature. I love to hike in the woods, and walk across open pastures. To get away from modern society, not hear cars, or radios blaring. I don't want to see the warehouses, office buildings and shopping centers. I like to look around at the wide open space, breathe in the fresh air, look at the plants and wonder which herbs might have been picked to make a poultice, see a rut in the path and think about how a carriage wheel would have gotten stuck or even worse broken the carriage axel and the whole thing come tumbling down.

Does every writer of historical fiction have to live like the characters of the book? I don't think you need to do so every day, but if you really want to get inside their heads, make their world pop on the page, then yes, I encourage you to give it a shot, at least for a few hours!

I'd love to hear how you immerse yourself in your fictional world! 

Eliza Knight is a multi-published author of historical romance and erotic romance. She is the owner the blog, History Undressed, and well known for being obsessed with all things historical.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Blending Fiction with Fact

Letting one's imagination run completely wild becomes slightly more complicated when you're writing historical. How far can you abuse the facts before readers start to doubt your research abilities?

In contemporary, you can put Mr Smith in the White House, make him single and dashing and falling in love with the gardener's daughter and call it a romantic comedy. Doesn't matter that Obama is currently there, doesn't matter that never before has there been a dashing, young, single president with enough time on his hands to chase after the gardner's daughter.

This doesn't work so well when you toss Queen Elizabeth off her throne to make room for your young, dashing king (unless you're writing alternate history, of course). Which, granted, is an extreme example, but a similar fear applies to smaller facts. How far can we stretch before belief is suspended and doubt in the author settles in?

In my next medieval release from Carina Press, my story is set in Jedburgh, Scotland. I have a scene at an abbey and there my debate started. Do I make up an abbey, or use the famous Jedburgh Abbey? My problem is that my story is set during the Protestant uprisings and reformation, and Jedburgh Abbey was pretty much ransacked and destroyed. I did my research. I know that. BUT I still wanted to use that fabulous setting.

What I ended up doing was working the fiction into the fact long before that scene.

Fact: Queen Mary of Scots stayed at Jedburgh Abbey a couple of times, she had a townhouse in Jedburgh and I saw no reason why she might not have had a soft spot for the place.

Fact: During the Reformation, some abbeys were taken under the wing of protectors/guardians and were left alone so long as the monks did not stray beyond the walls to preach.

Fiction: On a visit to Edinburgh, I put in a scene between my hero (a powerful laird in Jedburgh) and Queen Mary, where I make it clear Jedburgh Abbey has been put under his protection at her request. He has a permanent guard at the abbey to protect it from the mobs, and so in my story it has not been ransacked.

Another big event in my story is the escape of Queen Mary from Holyrood House where she is held captive by her own barons and her royal guard. Queen Mary facilitates her own escape by 'making up' with her traiterous husband (Henry Darnley) and winning her royal guard back to her side. Of course I wanted my hero to have a hand in rescuing the queen, but no way could I have him intrude on that escape setting which is so iconic.

But, I have always wondered why the royal guard switched sides so quickly. One minute they were sided with the traiterous barons and her captors, the next they were escorting her down the servant passages to help her escape. Step in my hero, when there's a build up and a scene where he 'convinces' the captain of the guard (using, um, brute force and threats) to change sides, so the captain's mind was open to being approached by the queen for help. So, my hero gets to play a small role in the queen's escape, and in a way that might or might not have genuinely happened.

Both instances mentioned are stretching facts, perhaps too far, but hopefully I've shown that I do know my history and have purposely contrived fact to bend toward my fiction. I'm not sure. This is one of the small examples of the risks historical authors take, over and over, in order to make their characters and story work within the frame of documented history.

I tend to write royalty and well-known figures into my stories, which makes it even more tricky to take my story where I want it to go and not where history has already gone.

As a reader of historical fiction, how much leeway do you allow for in the blending of fiction and fact?
As a writer of historical fiction, do you stick strictly to documented fact and how do you get creative?

Thursday, May 19, 2011

My Favorite Regency Era Artwork

by Susanna Ives

Several years ago, I agreed to help the Regency expert extraordinaire Nancy Mayer start her Regency Researcher web site. Little did I know then the cyber adventure I would embark upon. Nancy supplied the information, but it was up to me to design and maintain the site, as well as find images illustrating the content. I became like a WWW spelunker, crawling about the Internet Archive, Google Books, and various art sites searching for lesser known Regency images. So I decided to write this month’s blog post on some of my favorite finds.

One afternoon, after we had launched the very first pages, I met Nancy at the High Museum of Art in Atlanta. As we were strolling through the various rooms, Nancy taps my arm. Her eyes lit up as she pointed to a portrait of a handsome man on the wall. “It’s Mr. Darcy,” she gasped. She stood there for several minutes, mesmerized by the man in the painting. I realized I had to put this Mr. Darcy on her website. In the gift shop I tried in vain to find a poster, postcard or something about the painting. Nothing. Ugh! Then I got tenacious (obsessed). There had to be something about this painting somewhere on the internet. For heaven sakes this is the digital age. Off and on, I searched for two weeks until one night I finally located the image below.

Mr. Darcy a.k.a. Abraham Garland Randall was painted by the American painter James Frothingham. Randall lived from 1804 to 1878. He was a lawyer in Massachusetts.

One evening as I lay in bed reading to my daughter from a book about color published by the Metropolitan Museum of Art, I ran across this painting entitled "Young Woman Drawing" (1801).

To me, what is so unique about this painting is that it is a self-portrait the French artist Marie-Denise Villers. While most portraits of the day seem stiffly posed, I get a real sense of the artist in this work. Although over two hundred years separate us, I can relate to this woman hunched over her work, her hair sloppily drawn back with a pencil stuck in her bun. Here is another painting by Marie-Denise Villers that I think also captures that casual intimacy.

I can’t remember how I found Jacques-Laurent Agasse, but I love his work of English street life. He was a Swiss born artist who became known for painting animals. He moved to England in 1802.

I’ve tried to locate every illustrated book of Jane Austen’s on Google Books. Yet, the pictures in her books just don’t do it for me. They lack life. In my own research, I ran across a series of books by Mary Russell Mitford and illustrated by Hugh Thompson. The books contain many wonderful, albeit romanticized, illustrations of Regency country life. I’ve put a sample of the illustrations on Nancy’s website. But if you are interested, you should check out Our Village by Mitford on Google Books.

And, finally, I will leave you with a humorous picture entitled "Comfort" that I found while digging through the image archives at the New York Public library. Enjoy!

Monday, May 09, 2011

The Evolution of a Story

I started Always a Princess in the 1990s with the germ of an idea…what if two people met at a gala London ball, both planning to steal the same jewel?  He's the son of an earl, recently returned from his travels against his will.  She's a lower class woman who steals to survive.

My heroine, Eve, needed a bigger goal than just staying alive.  As a child in the London slums, Eve always imagined that the bucolic life would be a paradise, and she wants to buy a farm and escape the city completely.  After a major jewel heist, and after surrendering her virginity to the hero, Phillip, she takes the stolen diamond necklace and disappears.

Of course, Eve would have no idea of the realities of country life, so I had her buy a dilapidated farm with a barn standing only until the next strong wind comes through and a scrawny cow with a moo that sounds like a death rattle.  I was working with an Englishwoman at the time, and she acted as my consultant on the book.  She had relatives who were farmers, and so she did double duty providing information.  I remember asking her what an English farmer would name his cow.  When she told me “Buttercup,” we both cracked up.  It was such an impossible name for that emaciated cow.

I turned in the book.  A while later, I had one of those calls from my editor at the time.  “Alice,” he said.  “I love the first half, but the rest doesn't work.”  He was right.  Not only had I hijacked the story from London, where it belonged, but I’d allowed my heroine to escape from the consequences of having slept with the hero.

After much wailing and gnashing of teeth, I put away that farm, with the leaky hayloft where the hero has to try to sleep after he’d tracked Eve down.  I took the story back to London and made Eve deal with Phillip and their new relationship.  I lost Buttercup.

Now, I had another half-book to write, and I needed an entire new plot.  I’d had a relatively unimportant character in Eve's bumbling but caddish former employer, Arthur.  I built a whole new thread in which Eve would take her revenge against him by marrying into his family and disgracing them.  I wrote that and turned it in.  After all that work, I got one more revision letter and did hours more.  Finally, the book appeared in 2001 published under the pseudonym Alice Chambers.

Flash forward to 2010.  I had the rights to Always a Princess back from the original publisher and asked Carina if they’d be interested in re-releasing it.  Happily, they were.  Now, I had a new editor, Jessica Schulte.  She liked much about the story but thought, rightly, that no woman in her right mind would ever want to marry Arthur Cathcart, even for revenge.  Out went that plot, and went back to work yet again.  I don’t want to reveal too much of the new story, but Arthur still plays an important part.  Also, the police are a bit more active in this version.

I was finished finally, right?  Well no.  As I mentioned in an earlier blog (The Case of the Disappearing Dukes), it’s always seemed odd to me that English lords seem to die off in their early fifties and sixties, leaving their thirty-something sons the title.  In Always a Princess, I’d given Phillip a mother and father he liked very much.  To some readers, that made him seem like a mama’s boy—not something you want in a romance hero.  A few more tweaks convinced Jessica we’d fixed that problem.

After all these rounds of changes, I estimate that I’ve written over 160,000 words to produce a 90,000 word book.  As a writer friend always tells me, “To write is to rewrite.”  I grumble every time he says that, but I do the work because he's right.  As writers, we have to remember that none of our words are gold-plated, and we have to discard them and produce more as the story demands.  We have editors for a reason.  No matter how long we’ve been writing, we can’t evaluate our own work the way a disinterested professional can.  If one of them tells me Buttercup has to go, I need to take his advice.  But, I sure do miss that cow.

Always a Princess will be released in August.

Alice's website

E-mail Alice

Friday, May 06, 2011

Not romances, but romantic...

Back in March I blogged about my ten favorite historical romances. This month, as a little change of pace, I’m going to talk about some favorite books that aren’t romance, but might appeal to historical romance readers, especially those who also enjoy long-running series with recurring characters. They all have rich characters and take the reader on a journey to another place and time, so for me they hit almost the same sweet spot as a good historical romance.

1) The Lord Peter Wimsey mysteries, by Dorothy Sayers. These were contemporary at the time they were written, in the 1920’s and 30’s, but now provide a vivid look at the bygone world of Britain between WWI and WWII. There’s a lovely romance arc in the latter half of the series, and I often recommend romance readers start with Strong Poison, the book that introduces Lord Peter’s love interest, Harriet Vane, and then proceed to Have His Carcase, Gaudy Night, and Busman’s Honeymoon to follow their relationship arc, after which you can go back and read the rest of the series. The writing is lovely, witty, and occasionally thought-provoking, and Lord Peter and his supporting cast are a delight. Peter is one of my main fictional crushes, and I’m fond of Bunter, Miss Climpson, and the Dowager Duchess, among others.

2) The Marcus Didius Falco mysteries, by Lindsey Davis. Falco is a sleuth in the first century Roman Empire (about half the books take place in Rome and its immediate environs, the rest all around the empire). The history is accurate enough to delight my geeky, pedantic heart, but the tone is modern and slangy--a combination that works wonderfully for making Romans into vibrant, living characters in a diverse and often raucous society rather than the formal figures of swords-and-sandals epics. There’s a lovely romance arc that becomes a family arc as the plebian Falco woos and settles down with the patrician Helena Justina. (I do love a good cross-class romance where it’s the man who marries up.)

3) Jacqueline Carey’s Kushiel fantasy novels. Set in a recognizable alternative version of our world and wide-ranging in setting--though focused mostly on Terre d’Ange (France) and Alba (Britain)--these are epic fantasies where the fates of nations are at stake. But they also have strong romance arcs and more sex (some of it kinky) than typical for the fantasy genre. Oh, and they’re written in first person, an unusual choice for epic fantasy, but one that works very well, IMO.

As of now there are three trilogies. The first, beginning with Kushiel’s Dart and featuring courtesan and spy Phedre no Delaunay, is my favorite, but I also wolfed down the Imriel trilogy (first book Kushiel’s Scion), about Phedre’s foster son, and I’m loving the in-process trilogy set about 100 years later, beginning with Naamah’s Kiss. (The third and final book, Naamah’s Blessing, comes out in June, and I’ve already pre-ordered it on my Kindle.)

4) Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan Saga. A science fiction series, this may seem like more of a reach for historical romance fans, but at least for me it satisfies the same need to escape to a world different from my own, one driven by richly developed characters and their relationships. It’s set 1000 years or so in the future, in a world where humans have expanded out from Earth to colonize and terraform multiple planets linked by wormholes. The main planet of the series, Barrayar, went through centuries of isolation after its wormhole collapsed, during which time it went low-tech and feudalistic just to survive. After a new wormhole connection is discovered, the Barrayarans had to modernize in a hurry to avoid conquest by a galactic empire, and the Barrayar of the books is an often-awkward blending of traditional, feudal mores with high-tech, galactic power.

So much for backstory. The series begins with the meeting of Barrayaran Aral Vorkosigan, admiral and aristocrat, and Cordelia Naismith, an astronomical survey captain from a progressive, egalitarian planet. They fall in love despite the trifling obstacle of a war between their home planets, and the first two books, Shards of Honor and Barrayar, are about their early relationship and the birth of their son, Miles, the hero of the rest of the series. Miles doesn’t get his own romance arc until Komarr and A Civil Campaign, deep in the series, but unlike the Lord Peter books I wouldn’t advise reading the Vorkosigans out of order--the later books build too much on what happens before, and I don’t think the payoff of A Civil Campaign would be as satisfying if the reader hasn’t built up a relationship with Miles.

What about you? What do you read when you’re not reading romance?


Susanna Fraser writes Regency romance with a focus on the Napoleonic Wars. The Sergeant's Ladyand A Marriage of Inconvenience are available now from Carina Press.

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

You Know You Are a Regency Chav When....

From the Oxford English Dictionary:

Chav: Pronunciation: Brit. /tʃav/ , U.S. /tʃæv/
Etymology: Probably either < Romani čhavo unmarried Romani male, male Romani child (see ... (Show More)
Brit. slang (derogatory)

In the United Kingdom (originally the south of England): a young person of a type characterized by brash and loutish behaviour and the wearing of designer-style clothes (esp. sportswear); usually with connotations of a low social status.

1. Your brougham is up on bricks and it sports a pair of fluffy dice. After all, you are good at dice.

2. Your chesterfield is on the front lawn surrounded by garden gnomes and bottles of home made cider (yes yes, I know gnomes weren't invented until 1840, sue me.)

3. Your breeches are Burberry

4. Your Hessian boots have wheels in the bottom

5. Goldie Lookin' Chain. You have a passion for gold chains. Although this isn't necessary a pointer, as Regency Bling was pretty commonplace. Men would wear one or often many, watch fobs and chains around the waist

6. You find yourself waving your hand and saying "It is because I'z a Earl, innit?" when a young lady refuses you.

7. You drive around in your barouche with musicians perching on the back, but only the double bass players for maximum vibration.

8. A storm blows through your neighbourhood, doing £30,000 of improvement to your mansion

9. You have your title tattoed on your arm.

10. And "Mama" on the other arm.

11. You wear your top hat sideways .

12. You post your letters on a pay as you go basis on vodapost

13. You and your fellow aristos hang around the Isis, binge drinking

14. You have go-faster stripes and a spoiler on the barouche

15. You get an ASBO for asking a lady to dance more than twice.

Can you think of any more? I'd love to hear your ideas! Thanks for reading. Many thanks to Chris Smith for the Brougham manip.


Erastes writes gay historicals, and her first book for Carina is "The Muffled Drum" (set during the Austro Prussian War) and will be out in July 2011. It's full of soldiers, horses, angsty love, drawers and many many buttons.

Monday, May 02, 2011

Cant or Clarity?

As novelists we strive to add a touch of realism to our purple prose, especially when we're writing about centuries past and want to create the right atmosphere. But how far is it necessary to go when asking our readers to step back in time? We don't want to lose them, or bog them down in unnecessarily long descriptions. Nor do we want to resort to the stilted verbage of yester-year in order to prove that we know our stuff. There has to be a happy medium, right?

Aficionados of Georgette Heyer will be familiar with her use of Regency cant. Sometimes she sprinkles it through her books with a light hand. At others its laid on so thick that her meaning almost gets lost. You know the sort of thing. Being short of blunt, having pockets to let, being in dun territory – all of those expressions tell us that some unfortunate soul is hard up. So why not just say so? Well, because the odd bit of easily understood cant makes for authenticity, I suppose. Take another example. If a woman's accused of being a doxy, a lightskirt, a Cyprian or a member of the Mulsin company we'd have a pretty low opinion of her morals. (Or not as the case may be).

All of the above are in fairly common use in Regency novels and unlikely to confuse anyone. But I thought I'd have a bit of fun and introduce some cant that's not quite so well known.

How about - A bumblebroth,
a cicsbeo,
dernier cri
or a Long Meg.

Any idea what those phrases signify? And let's not forget my personal favourite:


Obviously, I don't mean the board game. Let me have your best guess about that one too. Alternatively you can wait for my next Regency Scandalous Propositions to be published by Carina Press in September and find out that way.

Wendy Soliman